In an extremely controversial move, BMW is experimenting with a subscription service for car features such as heated seats. The fee is $18 a month, with the option to be $180 a year or $415 for unlimited access.
Media outlets have reported this feature rolling out in a few countries like South Korea, but BMW isn’t making a big fuss about it with good reason – the idea of paying microtransactions for car features isn’t going well with the community.
What’s particularly upsetting is that the cars come with all the necessary hardware and software for the feature to work, but a subscription is required to “unlock” access to the feature, otherwise it’s unusable.
It’s normal for carmakers to charge extra for luxury features, but that’s usually the case when your car doesn’t have said feature and you want to install it. In this case, your car already has the feature. You just can’t use it without permission.
This creates a strange parallel with the world of videogames, where the term “microtransaction” is most commonly used.
Back in the mid-2000’s when online games were still in their infancy. Many publishers attempted to charge extra for DLCs (downloadable content) as a way to monetize the game after its launch period. But the gaming community didn’t take it well when they realized that in some cases, this extra content was already on the game’s disk, and they were simply paying to unlock it.
No one expected the same to happen to cars in 2022.
The UK BMW website also displays other features locked behind paywalls, such as steering wheel heating and adaptive suspension. The website notes that if your car has the required hardware, you should be able to purchase and activate these features from the shop.
Essentially, this translates to “your car technically already has adaptive suspension capabilities but you can’t use it.”
Even worse, for some features like the IconicSounds Sport, the website disingenuously states:
“If IconicSounds Sport is available to you, the hardware for this feature has already been installed in your vehicle during production, at no extra cost." – Source: BMW
It’s shockingly tone-deaf.
None of this would be much of an issue if these add-ons required the owner of the vehicle to physically visit a local BMW garage to install the components, assuming their car had the required prerequisites. But as mentioned before, the car technically already has all of these features, they’re just paywalled.
In most cases, according to the website, the process of activation is as simple as confirming the purchase via email, and then the next time you drive the car, the feature you subscribed to should be unlocked.
The defense for this method of monetization is that BMW is looking for a way to make car purchases cheaper by charging for these add-ons separately, allowing the owner the freedom to only spend on what they truly want.
Cheaper cars sound good on paper, but in practice, not many people are happy about paying for cars equipped with high-end luxury features that they cannot use without a subscription service.